Right before Halloween, I picked a book up from Netgalley which I had hoped to have reviewed BY Halloween. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. But I did finally finish The Winter Sisters: A Novel, by Tim Westover, and get it reviewed.
I was so excited about this novel, because as a weird southerner AND appreciator of superstition, folklore, herbalism, the supernatural, and history, it makes my heart happy to find books which appeal to many of my whims all at once.
Here is my review at Goodreads:
“A stuffy big-city doctor. Three rural folk healers. An unexpected partnership could put lives on the line…
Georgia, 1822. Dr. Aubrey Waycross puts his faith in science, not superstition. So when he moves to a remote mountain town, he’s dismayed to see the townsfolk reject his scientific blood-letting methods in favor of potions and witchcraft. And with a rabid panther stalking the area, he’s running out of time to convince the citizens of the error of their ways.
Confronting the trio of spell-peddling sisters, he’s stunned to find their herbal remedies may contain the missing ingredient he needs for a cure. But with the local pastor hellbent on driving them out and the youngest sister unwilling to share her mysterious abilities, he worries he could lose the sick to madness and death.
Can Dr. Waycross discover the right combination of science and sorcery to save the townspeople?
The Winter Sisters is a spellbinding frontier-America historical fantasy. If you like unique twists on history, complex characters, and a touch of enchantment, then you’ll love Tim Westover’s richly woven tale.”
Right away I was drawn by the subject matter: superstitious southerners and folklore during the frontier days.
Our hapless Dr. Waycross is initially persuaded to leave the polite society and sophistication of Savannah behind in favor of traveling to the isolated, agrestic hamlet of Lawrenceville after being summoned by its Mayor, who tells of a rabid panther spreading hydrophobia as well as the need for a physician in town. Almost immediately upon arriving in Lawrenceville and throughout the novel, the good doctor manages to tangle with traveling hucksters, the town’s over-zealous pastor, superstitious townsfolk, and to some degree, the titular Winter sisters themselves.
He becomes fascinated with the Winter sisters upon learning of their devoted following, and that they are not simply the “granny women” he’d originally believed them to be. With reputations for being witches, the Winter sisters – romantic Rebecca, the oldest; practical Sarah, the middle; and alluring, ethereal Effie, the youngest – were run out of town several years prior to Dr. Waycross’s arrival by the very people who seek their healing (mostly in secret) due to a tragic accident which claimed the life of Rebecca’s love interest. Effigies of the Winter sisters were burned, and are still left hanging in town for all to see. It is even purported that the rabid panther is their familiar.
Dr. Waycross becomes increasingly frustrated over not being able to capture the rabid panther, and especially the fact that the townsfolk would rather swill a huckster’s tonic – or, if the situation is really bad, travel for a day or send for the sisters – than submit to his leeching, bloodletting, amputation, and other scientific cures. He wishes to leave Lawrenceville and return to Savannah, but has run out of money and the state medical board, to whom he has appealed for help, will take months to respond, if at all.
In an attempt to learn more of the sisters’ healing ways and salvage his own business, he convinces them to move back to Lawrenceville and join him in his medical practice. The practice is busy and booming. Dr. Waycross finds love, but very nearly loses it due to his obsessions and addiction. Through the next few months, they find their business destroyed, and thus the Winter sisters choose to separate and live their lives apart from one another.
I found this novel to be entertaining, descriptive, and well-written. Much research obviously went into recreating in print this world which existed nearly two hundred years ago. A compelling plot, fascinating narrative, the dialect and mannerisms of days gone by, and the weirdly wonderful characters of yesteryear all come together to make this a novel worth reading, especially if you enjoy historical fiction. It’s also worth a read if you enjoy folklore and hints of the supernatural.